Local History

Launton has a varied history, and the Historical Society has contributed to this page:

A short History of Launton

The ecclesiastical parish of Launton still follows its historical boundaries, covering an area of 2818 acres (1140 hectares).

However the civil parish of Launton is now much smaller, land having been ceded to Bicester in the later 20th century – the old Hungerhill Farm , which was taken over by the military authorities in World War 1 for the construction of one of the early airfields, and other land in the south-west corner of the parish needed for the expansion of housing and industry in Bicester, as well as the ring road.

The first time that Launton appears in history is at the time of the death of Edward the Confessor in 1065, when he endowed the newly-built Westminster Abbey with the income from some of his estates, including Launton.

How long before that there had been a community living here is unknown, no archaeological evidence of early settlement having been discovered yet.

The name ‘Launton’ supposedly comes from Anglo-Saxon words meaning ‘ long settlement;’ this would suggest that there had been a group of people living here for possibly several centuries before King Edward died.

The monks of Westminster Abbey needed accommodation to stay when they came to oversee their estate here and reputedly built themselves a dwelling and a chapel; these buildings later became Manor Farm and our parish church.

In 1238 the church was enlarged so that the villagers could also worship here, and the rite of baptism was granted; it was another two centuries before burials were allowed in the churchyard.

The village developed along the north-west side of ‘the street’ (modern Station Road and West End), with a few properties scattered along church lane (now Bicester Road), plus the outlying farms at Hare Leys (in the north east) and Hungerhill.

The population was dependant on farming and its allied trades – blacksmiths, wheelwrights, etc, – plus butchers, bakers and innkeepers.

Close to the houses and to the south of the village, there were small fields used for grazing; to the north of the village the land was in open fields, divided into strips, where the arable crops were grown.

Over the centuries, the church was enlarged, and in1416 the first bells were hung in the tower. Many of the farm houses were enlarged or rebuilt in the late 16th century. In 1716, a disastrous fire at The Rectory (now demolished) resulted in the destruction of the early parish registers.

Launton appears to have changed little until early in the 19th century, when the open fields were divided up and were planted with hedgerows (1815); soon afterwards the first houses in Blackthorn Road were built and development took place along the SE side of ‘the street.’

At that time, Dr William F Browne (rector 1779-1837) farmed a large area of land here and, in the view of many, neglected his parish duties. Consequently a Congregationalist minister was invited to preach here; at first the group met in a private house, then a small chapel was built on the site of West End Close, and in 1850 a larger one was built in Station Road.

In the 1830s the members of this congregation had opened a school (it closed in 1881). The new rector (Rev J Blomfield) quickly established a school near the church and it was opened in 1839.

This proved successful, and was soon enlarged; in 1865 a house was built for the headteacher close by. (Further enlargements were made in 1896 and 1972).

The railway came to Launton in 1851 (the Oxford to Cambridge line) with a station, a houses for the stationmaster and the signalman/crossing gate-keeper and a small goods siding.

The price and the availability of coal were dramatically improved, and the railway provided new employment opportunities. (A second line – the present Chiltern Line – was built in 1908, but no station was built in Launton).

In the 1960s both lines were under threat of closure, but, eventually the first line was made single-working and for a limited number of freight movements only.

(The newer line – providing a frequent and rapid service between London and Birmingham – is busier than it ever was).

The population of Launton doubled between 1800 and 1871 (from 372 to 746), but this was followed by a period of rural poverty and many Launton families moved away, either to the new industrial cities or overseas, to Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

In 1884 Francis A Harrison became headmaster of the school, where he remained for 37 years. He was a very musical man who encouraged both schoolchildren and adults to stage concerts.

He was also a keen football player and supported the Launton team, which won many local tournaments.

It was during his time as headmaster that the first pupils from Launton School were later to go to university, where they studied theology; brothers Arthur, Herbert and William Sansome, became Congregational ministers, and Thomas W Jones (1887-1951), became Moderator of the United Church of Canada
World War 1 hit the population the village hard; a total of 19 names of those sons of Launton who died are on the war memorial, but there are further names that could be added – other men who had strong connections with the village, and also those who died later as a result of their war service.

A further three names of men who died in the course of World War 2 also appear on the war memorial, which was dedicated in 1995.
In the 1930s a factory was built (now the site of The Glades), where components for the automotive industry were made; this provided employment for a good number of people for the next 50 years until it moved to new premises elsewhere.

The population continued to fall, and by 1940 was almost at the same level it had been in 1800. World War 2 brought a large number of evacuee children from West Ham, London; soldiers were billeted in the Parish Hall (opened in 1930), and members of the Women’s Royal Air Force were stationed in the Rectory.

A Launton resident who gained national and international fame at this period was Frederick Sharpe, an expert on both church bells and hand bells.

As soon as the war was over, the local council began building a large number of council houses – in Bicester Road and Sherwood Close (the latter were demolished and rebuilt in 2005).

A number of private houses were built in Blackthorn Road in the 1950s; this was quickly followed by Skinner Road and Ancil Avenue (1962), Sycamore Road (1967), Chestnut Close (1969), and Blenheim Drive (1972). At one stage, residents were alarmed at the size of several proposed housing developments, especially in the area between Blackthorn Road and West End.

In 1999 this area was purchased with money raised by the village through the Woodland Trust, in order to provide an open space for all to enjoy.

In the 1970s the school was enlarged and a playgroup was started in an adjacent building; the village also raised money to buy a field for sports pitches, a children’s playground and a club house.

The population is now more than 1400, and the various cultural, sporting and social groups, both for children and for adults, are well supported.

There are two public houses, both serving meals, a post office, butcher’s shop, general shop, hairdresser as well as frequent daytime bus service connections to Bicester and beyond.

If you have any contributions to make regarding the village’s recent or less recent history, then please contact us.